Dr Dimitri Christakis has just released a study that shows TV watching inhibits the acquisition of language in infants. It ties in well to the guideline from the American Academy of Pediatricsthat kids under 2 shouldn’t watch television.
The finding that struck me was that for every hour the TV was on, the child heard 700 fewer words from an adult. I’ve noticed that this occurs for us too and I’ve always said I wasn’t going to use the boob tube as a babysitter, but there are a number of issues that arise from this.
Babies need a lot of attention, pretty constantly, if you aren’t going to use a distraction like the TV. A complex toy, like the brightly painted wooden tensegrity icosohedron we just inherited, will keep our angel occupied for about 10 minutes. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for housework, let alone other work and it means at least one parent is occupied with baby care almost constantly. Unless you’re both freelance like we are, that’s likely to mean Mum’s time is occupied with baby. It’s a challenge for the feminist mother who is torn between her intellectual understanding that baby needs stimulation and her need for adult interaction and her own career.
Yet our idea that we will interact with the baby around screen time is clearly misguided. The Steiner system of education solves this by limiting access to television and computers until the child is at least 8, arguing that passive screen time inhibits creativity. My daughter is certainly captivated by the bright light of my laptop screen as much as the television and her experience of it at this age can only be passive. However, if we want our children to be happy, marginalising them from the rest of society doesn’t seem to be an option. If we want them to grow up to change the world, then perhaps it’s best they understand the mechanisms in order to know where to throw their sabots.
There are a number of child-appropriate computer games that do encourage genuine creativity and not just reflexive direction of an avatar, such as the Tux Paint program. Even these, though, are designed for children over three.
It looks like we’ll be developing a screen-time policy and like adults will only watch DVDs and downloaded movies after baby’s bedtime. We may have to work on a similar policy about laptop/computer time, as I know both of us have been guilty of sitting with the baby on our knee and reading our e-mail or catching up with blogs, and patently not interacting with her.
The assumption that she is “quiet” has turned into the assumption that she is happy. Problematic. The challenge is to involve her in tasks, interact with her and narrate our lives in such a way that she is given all the tools to critically engage with the world but without sacrificing our sanity, the cleanliness of our home or our ability to work on adult tasks. It’s not an easy ask. It’s partly made more complex by the nuclear family structure — in other cultures and in our own past, extended family members would share this time-consuming role. In bigger families, older siblings might take on some of the responsibility.
Then again, maybe these days they just all sit in front of the screen together and don’t interact much at all.